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Why do we do it ...? [Jul. 18th, 2016|11:39 pm]
The simple answer isn't simple. Why do the things you do as a father? Because you're genetically programmed to? Because there is a societal pressure to conform? Because you should?

So tonight - and it isn't the first night, Will falls asleep downstairs. Sometimes it's in his bouncy chair. Sometimes it's in his bascinet. Sometimes on his playmat. The important thing to remember is he's in the wrong place and the sleep consultants tell you that baby must go to sleep in the right place. So you're screwed.

So - tonight. Will has struggled with the hot weather. He has literally never encountered weather this warm in his 3 month life before. This is all new to him and he only has one way to indicate his discomfort. So he cries then screams then sleeps, and at this point there is much (very quiet) rejoicing.

But he is asleep.

So tonight, I have to transfer Will from the place he has chosen to sleep to the place we want him to sleep. Up 2.5 flights of stairs and 7 corners.

There is a certain amount of trepidation when you go to lift a 3 month old sleeping baby. Get it wrong and he may never sleep again ever. Get it really wrong and he will turn into a hungry ghost that will keep your family awake for the next 5 generations. So with my heart in my mouth I bend down to lift and carry.

And here is where the miracle happens. Here is where it becomes all worthwhile.

Because I pick up Will and pull him to my shoulder so he won't feel unsupported. And he swings his arms wide and as he makes contact with my chest his arms wrap around my neck.

And at this point, my heart explodes.

I know, rationally, it's just a reflex. It's a perceived fall with the arms out to grab hold.

In my head, it's rational and explained.

But in my heart ...

Oh Captain, my Captain.

My son grabs hold of my neck, trusting that I won't let him fall.

And I swear my life and my honour that, while it is in my power, he will not fall.
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Transition rituals [Jul. 15th, 2016|11:47 pm]
When I started teaching Aikido, many many years ago, our dojo was in a tennis club - a step up from the previous place which was a chapel. The chapel was lovely, and the owners great, but we had to lug the heavy tatami mats down a narrow staircase, and the women got changed in the kitchen, and the men in the dojo space itself.

The tennis club was much bigger, and had better facilities. There was a cupboard by the practice space so the mats were easy to pack and unpack, and it had proper changing rooms, and it had showers.

So it very quickly became my ritual, especially the nights I was teaching, to take a shower. Not after the session (well, I did, but that's not the point of this story) but before.

Because taking a shower before meant certain things. It meant getting there early, to make sure I had time. It meant having a clean gi to practice in, because who wants to shower and then get into dirty clothes? It meant spending time in the changing room thinking about getting ready, about being in the right frame of mind to step onto the mat and to teach. That shower - with echoes of the ritual cleansing that many religions have before prayer - that shower was my transition ritual. Here, I stop being part of the world outside. I wash it's dirt from my skin. I prepare myself for what is to come.

And cleansed and refreshed, I would step onto the mat and bow.

So it's not really surprising that when I started training people in classrooms, I developed my own transition rituals. Mostly it was about laying out the space; putting learning materials by each computer (and to do that, you have to be there a little early ...), but the physical ritual for myself was emptying my pockets. Keys, coins, wallet. They all went into my bag, or the box that I'd just emptied my learning materials out of. Again, the practical part was to not have anything in my pockets to distract me, but the ... spiritual ... for want of a better word ... the spiritual part was to say 'here is the world, that you are putting away. Here, now, in this room; this is where your focus should be."

Why the memory?

The Church (both Catholic and CofE) recognise transitions; times when your life is literally changed from one moment to the next. There's a ritual for each.

The Catholic Church recognises seven sacraments - seven rituals that mark significant changes. I've been through four - Baptism, Holy Communion, Confession and Confirmation. I'm unlikely ever to go through Holy Orders. At some point, unless my agnosticism sticks, I may have the Sacrament of the Sick.

But tomorrow - some twelve hours from now, I get married. The church I'm getting married in has its own rituals - a familiar structure of prayers, promises, vows and hymns that have hooks deep inside me.

But I have my own rituals too. A dram of Irish whiskey - a present from @westernind and @forbinproject for being their best man 12 years ago. An ironed shirt. A dry-cleaned suit. Polished shoes.

And words to remember this moment by.

Catch you on the flip side.
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Memories of hospital - snapshots [May. 13th, 2016|10:39 am]
Just in case people don't want to read about operating theatres ...
Can I remember how to do cut-tags?Collapse )
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So this is D-Day [Apr. 9th, 2016|07:20 pm]
According to medical science, my baby is due today.

It's rubbish, really. They make a best guess as to the date of conception then assume 40 weeks from there. We're dead certain that the date is wrong. And anyhow, I'm told that only 5% of babies are born on thier due date.

But still.

Now, we are in waiting mode. Now, the delivery is ticking over into overdue. A's maternity leave has started and that 12 month clock is ticking even if Baby Scott-Roe (as close as we are to a name) is late to the ball.

Everything is ready. Well. Everything which can be. Rooms are decorated, plans are made, bags are packed. Routes and backup routes have been drawn on maps and committed to memory (and google maps). Like any event, you plan for all the things that you can so that you have brain space and energy for all the things you can't plan for.

I'd like to claim I'm scared, or apprehensive, or something. Something I can answer honestly to all the people who ask "How are you feeling?". Or so I can agree with the people who say "you must be frightened" with such confidence.

But I'm not. This is an event, like all the events I've run over the past 30 years. What can be anticipated has been. What can't will be dealt with when it arrives.

If the adrenaline kicks in now I'll burn out before I'm useful. So I'm kicking my heels in a Soho bar, an open fire, a Guinness and a comfortable chair while A is at a hen do she'd said she couldn't attend but is now able to. We will head home soon.

I'm not ready.

But I'm ready to be ready.

That'll do.
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Plague and choice ... [Jan. 30th, 2016|02:24 pm]
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[Current Music |Bowie: Ashes to Ashes]

I have come down with a cold; my first in a good year. I made it through the day of an offsite meeting on pseudopsuedopsuedoephadrine and chocolate eclairs (the cream filled rather than the Cadburys). Interesting conversations, though I think I may have banged on a little too much about building a brand internally and marketing for Security. That may have been the drugs talking.

I've been listening a lot to David Bowie recently, unsurprisingly. After I heard the news of his death I was surprised to find I didn't own any of his songs (bar Heroes on the London Olympics soundtrack album) but a quick trip to iTunes and 3 best of albums ranging from 1969 to 1987 appeared quickly. As always with a best of, there's the tracks you know, the tracks you like and the tracks that really stretch the definition of 'best of' to breaking point. Sometimes, the same track fits all three categories.

The week passed and I just spent 3 hours looking at 'travel systems' in Mothercare. A travel system, for those not in the know, is a transformer pram, that can be a carry cot, a buggy, a pram, a dalek, a climbing frame, a dessert and a floor topping!

I didn't find it too bad (though they cannily have a Costa in store, with lots of seating for when you need that mid-shop caffeine and sugar fix). We didn't buy anything - too many choices to process - but we have a list of our favourites. This afternoon will be at home, on my computer, shopping as an introverted God intended, over the internet.

Speaking of too many choices - Why Finnish babies sleep in boxes is a good read and a great idea. The number of choices I'm seeing as a new dad are frankly overwhelming and making me tharn. Being sent a box with the inherent reassurance that someone else has gone through and thought of everything you might need to get started is a great idea.

And if you're not going to get sent one by the Finnish Government, you can just order one over the internet. The €400 is pretty good - the contents bought separately from Amazon come close to €300 - I'm not so sure about the Moomin themed box though - €200 extra for some Moomin themed diapers and some other bits ...
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On the naming of names .... [Jan. 16th, 2016|02:18 pm]
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Some people seem to know what they want to call their kid; I'm paralysed by indecision.

I'm not so worried about matching their name to their personality. At the point we're legally obliged to put something to paper, I'm fully expecting young babba's personality to manifest as either cute, vomiting, burping or pooing. Or all 4. Babba will grow into a name (or names - I'm a big fan of middle names for that reason.)

But names are important. So we're pouring through baby names books, one alphabetical chapter at a time. And each name has to be tried against our surnames to make sure it sounds okay when said aloud. It has to have the 'what do the initials make?' test, and pass the 'what's the worst nickname we can think of?' barrier - which, it has to be said, has lead to some hilarious and somewhat disgusting conversations in the car on the way to visit family. I'm so proud ...

One of the problems I've got at the moment is LRP - specifically, how does one tell a non-geek partner that calling the child 'Elspeth' would just be too weird? William, Benedict, Arthur - all have associations. (I've not suggested Jarane - it wouldn't be appreciated). Can't go for Alexander / Alexandra (my all time favourites), because, well, we're not having a Junior in the family. (Is it still Junior if the daughter is named after the mum?) Alix's male family name is 'John' and we've been roundly forbidden from that (her dad, her uncle, her cousin, her grandad, me. That's a whole lot of Johns for someone who only has 4 living male relatives ...).

So - at the point that a lot of the pregnant couples we know are saying 'We've narrowed it down to our top 5 for each sex' we're able to say 'We have a huge list of names we don't want the child to have, and a whole list of disagreements - she likes Reginald, I'd rather not have a Reggie. I like Mary (for family reasons) - Alix can only think of 'Of Scots' and given her love for Queen Elizabeth (both varieties) I'm not going to win that battle.

So what did you do?
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(no subject) [Dec. 21st, 2015|08:27 am]
Happy Solstice everyone. Wishing you light, warmth and love, now on the shortest day and as the days lengthen.
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(no subject) [Sep. 30th, 2014|11:06 pm]
Goodbye Stanley Road.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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(no subject) [Dec. 25th, 2013|09:21 am]
A very happy Christmas to you all :-)
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Genre specific [Aug. 8th, 2013|11:09 pm]

Reading some old emails (2005 era) I came across the initial player pitch for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG I ran; it was set in a high school, and these were the character generation guidelines that I sent around.

  1. There are no ugly people in California; they all got moved to New Jersey.

  2. Cool _is_ more important than clever, thank you for asking.

  3. If there's a choice between saving the world and going to the mall, you are allowed to phone a friend.

  4. Beach Bum is a legitimate career choice.

  5. "Like" is not a word, it's a punctuation mark.

  6. Smoking, drinking and drug taking are almost certainly grody to the max.

  7. No taking the piss ...
    7a (Unless it's funny)

  8. Intellectual isn't a dirty word, but nerd is.

I really should run some more games ...
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In the heat of the night ... [Jul. 26th, 2013|10:44 pm]
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There's something enervating about constant heat in England; we're not used to it, and it saps away at us. Tempers fray, nerves thin; we snarl at each other where we would have let things go.

So I was on my way home from London Bridge, after an excellent night in the pub with friends tonight, and I got on the Ilford train at Stratford. And just as I sat down, two people bumped into each other, and he decided that she had been less than careful and she decided that he had over-reacted and suddenly two people were having a loud and energetic argument in the carriage and the rest of us just wanted to be somewhere else and that somewhere else was cool and at home. Short of an ice gun and a teleporter, that wasn't going to happen.

They sat. Not opposite each other.  She facing away from him; he defiantly placed facing the back of her head because he was correct and she was wrong. The set of his neck and shoulders exuded righteousness. She sat as if he didn't exist; defensive, perhaps, but no outward signs of nervousness.

I can't answer for either of them and what they were feeling but my reading of the situation was that violence was not going to happen. This wasn't a fight that was going to kick off. This was two people rubbing against each other like burrs under a blanket, and neither able or willing to turn around and say 'Sorry. It's a hot night. I've got a short temper tonight but I shouldn't have taken it out on a stranger'.

So - so far; about what you'd expect from public transport on a hot Friday evening.

But what drew my attention out of my headphones and book was the effect on the rest of the carriage.

If you'd asked me in advance, I'd have assumed that people would have got defensive themselves, in case a fight was going to kick off. Or they'd have got judgemental of one or both of the two, taking sides almost.

Instead I saw smiles. And not the 'Would you look at those pair?!' smiles. I saw people moving over, and making room. I saw newspapers being passed, and when I got off the train there was a concerted effort to make sure that the people with heavy luggage or prams were being helped up the stairs.

It's almost like there was a concerted unconscious effort to overcome the bad vibes that she and he were giving each other by trying to make the world a (very) slightly better place.

Someone tried to play the peacemaker between the two people that were arguing, and it went down like the proverbial lead balloon.

But the rest of the carriage, consciously or not, tried to make sure that even if those two people were upset, that didn't have to apply to anyone else.
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My comfort blankets ... [Jun. 30th, 2013|01:59 pm]
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A quiet weekend, mostly on my own, though with a welcome few hours in the local with caddyman and ellefurtle. So in the silence of my flat (silent if you don't count the TV from next door - Doris is in her 80s, and is somewhat hard of hearing) I've been reading, and thinking about re-reading.

I think all readers have their comfort blankets; books that have to be nearby, even if they're not frequently read. Some of mine will come as no surprise to most of you - Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, LeGuin's Earthsea, Pratchett's Diskworld. Books from my childhood and teens; comfortable like an old jumper with holes in the elbows and history woven through.

Others are newer; I've been reading Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos stories since my first visit to London as an adult. I was giving a paper at a conference, and the Library Association had an arrangement with, of all places, the Union Jack club in Waterloo. The Union Jack is a private members club for serving and ex members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and I rented a room there for the three days of the conference. As a geeky, skinny, spekkie 22 year old, I really didn't fit in with either the squaddies or the officers who were in the bar and in the TV room. So I wandered around Waterloo until I found a remaindered book shop (which is still there) and bought and devoured the first three novels. They're not my favourites though. The real comfort blanket for me is Issola, which is a tale of love, friendship and manners. Without spoilers, the ending is probably the saddest of all of Brust's novels, and yet that feeling of loving melancholy is one I return to again and again.

Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise stories keep pulling me back. They're short - the 1970s and 80's Pan paperbacks I have (with the most ridiculous covers) are 70,000 words or so. Small enough to put in the back pocket of a pair of jeans or inside a coat, short enough to devour in a couple of hours, familiarity allowing me to concertina through the stories - flipping ahead quickly to get to the parts that I savour. O'Donnell's writing is slick, and his characters are way better than Bond for emphasising with, even if his situations are as far fetched.

And then, my most escapist, most comfortable blanket of all - Kipling's Kim. There's a lovely moment in Stalkey and Co, where the headmaster of the school, having just beaten Stalkey, M'Turk and Beetle for breaking rule 7 into little bits (breaking school boundaries, smoking, getting their teachers into trouble), tells them '"And that reminds me. There are a pile of paper-backs on that shelf. You can borrow them if you put them back. I don't think they'll take any harm from being read in the open. They smell of tobacco rather. You will go to prep. this evening as usual. Good-night." My copy of Kim is like that. (Well, without the tobacco smoke.) It's a hardback from 1957 that will fit into any coat I own, and I've read it many times. The paper is thin, but of much higher quality than you see now in books, and durable; I've no doubt it will out last me.

And it begins: "He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that 'fire breathing dragon' hold the Punjab, for that great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror's loot."

Why the introspection?I was chatting to friends in the pub on Friday night about tech, and Kindles, and possible changes, and we all acknowledged that we're reading more and more ebooks, and buying fewer paper books. (And the same with movies and music.) But if you walk into my flat at present, you'll see books in every room; my personality and choices on display. We're moving away with that; if I read a Kindle in public you have no idea what I'm looking at; no longer will publishers have to create 'adult' covers for Harry Potter so businessmen can read them on the train without embarrassment. The ebook reader brings privacy, but at the cost of shuttering a quick glimpse into the soul.
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Eliza's name is Nelly [Jun. 29th, 2013|04:12 pm]
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I've been meaning to move from O2 for a while - they've just sold their home broadband service to *spit* Sky, and their best deals for SIM only mobile are twice the cost of the service I'm (going to be) getting from GiffGaff (That's an affiliate page - if you want to use that to join, I get £5 as do you. http://www.giffgaff.com for a non-affiliate link.)

But first, the dreaded "Give me my PAC number" conversation. Browsing the GiffGaff forums showed me a link to an instant message service where I could get my code; save me the phone call and (I hoped) more difficult for them to try to browbeat me into staying.

Now - bearing in mind that the reason I'm moving is that I'm going to be paying £12 / month for unlimited data, 300 minutes talk time and unlimited texts, and I currently pay approx £20 / month for 1GB data, 100 minutes and 500 texts - there's no deal I can see them offering to tempt me, especially as it's the unlimited data which is really appealing.

This is the conversation I just had.
Read more...Collapse )

Now - doesn't that just read like a bot? It's not quite, unless they've programmed the bot to make spelling mistakes. And the whole 'I've prepared a deal for you' - those are standard SIM only contracts on their website, so I'm not getting any special treatment here.

But I was itching to type 'Are you Eliza?' all through the conversation.

Public Service Announcement: Phone transferring Wednesday - expect interruption of service if you were planning to call me :-)

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Another trip through the nostalgia vaults .... [May. 23rd, 2013|10:45 pm]
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Pirates of Passion!


The Love of a Good Woman

A play in 3 scenes and one act

Written by a gentleman most noble

Directed by Donna Serafiya van Bourselin di Medici


MACHO REMORA “King of Kisses”
as Captain James Tabor, Devil of the Southern Seas


A Cast of Hundreds

Produced in association with the Syracusan Society for the Fine Arts

And sponsored by Fiorissimo and Di Cassia

Makers of the Blockbuster Fragrance:Sea Hud

Read more...Collapse )
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Looking through old archives ... [May. 21st, 2013|08:25 pm]
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In lieu of actual content, a story, from a long time ago.

The tale of King Cedrun and the Sword of AgesCollapse )
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The Matrix [Mar. 4th, 2013|07:21 pm]
So- a thought. The computers grab everyone and plug them into the matrix, creating a shared reality whilst using the humans as batteries.

Ignoring the dodgy thermodynamics, why was it so dull? Why was Neos job so boring that he tried to find out more about the matrix? Why was he in a dull cubicle 8 hours a day? If they'd programmed the Matrix to be like a computer game (loads of fun, infinite respawns), or like an MDMA and acid tinged paradise (houris and genies to see to your every desire) very few people would even care about the real world!

See. I reckon if the computers ever take over, I should be allowed to rule their computer generated reality.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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(no subject) [Feb. 26th, 2013|10:38 am]
Saw the Australian Pink Floyd last night and pretty much one after the other they played Shine On, Wish You Were Here and Comfortably Numb. Keeps reminding me of Deanne for some reason.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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the past is a different country ... [Oct. 29th, 2012|11:08 pm]
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I was supposed to be editing a commercial for our play this evening - an email from the writer has knocked me somewhat off keel about it, so instead I'm procrastinating and reading old LJ entries. Which is when I came across this particular gem:

I don't want an iPod. I don't need to carry 10,000 songs around with me. 10 Gigabytes of music is probably far more music than I own, let alone listen to on a regular basis, and that's the entry level for iPods, so I'm safe.


I currently have a 64Gb drive on my phone and there's 50Gb of music on there, which is about 2/3 of my collection.

I'm really not cut out for a job as a futurist.
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Best course to windward [Oct. 21st, 2012|09:26 pm]
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I haven't written much about sailing, despite it eating a number of weekends this year. Difficult to talk about, because it's too easy to wax poetical and somewhat purple about it; I know why Masefield wrote:

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

even if I am in awe of the beautiful simplicity of his language and rhythm.

So, last weekend, I sailed around the Isle of Wight with the Bank Sailing Club (of which I am now a member, and therefore allowed to fly a particular pennon if I am ever skippering a yacht. This pleases me immensely). We were heading almost due west, not far off rounding the Needles, and we had a favourable tide and wind - smooth seas as I took the helm. "Best course to windward" I was told as I took over - i.e. get the wind in a good place and just go.

As I sailed, we were skipping across the sun's track on the water - low in the October sky and dodging in and out behind the clouds, the rays were glistening on the water, looking like golden cobblestones on our path. But the wind was shifting round the quarter, and I was chasing with our boat, making small adjustments, changing the heading by 10 or 20 degrees each time.

The skipper came on deck. "Why the jinking?" he asked.

"I'm trying to keep her to windward," I replied. "If I steer straight west, we're making about 5 knots. If I keep her in the wind, we're making about 6."

He grinned at me; aware that 1 mile an hour's gain is actually, really, not a huge deal. We weren't racing, we didn't have to be anywhere in particular. The tide and wind were in our favour.

He looked forward.

"I have often thought", he said, "That one of the joys of sailing is that it allows one to emphasise the romantic over the merely efficient. Best course to sunset, please, Helm."
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Thoughts [Aug. 24th, 2012|01:43 pm]
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The next time I mention that I'm anti-Royalist / Republican and someone trots out the line "but they're trained from birth to the role, bred to be ambassadors for the country" someone remind me to mention Harry Hewitt?

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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Why I love the internet - #1345 [Aug. 17th, 2012|12:28 am]
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So, not very long ago, an artist named Gotye released this song:

And it's good. It's catchy, the video is interesting, and it's a strong song.

Then the internet kicks in. If you youtube for Gotye and 'somebody that I used to know' there's a whole heap of remixes and covers. This is one of my favourites.

All the remixes happened quickly - people grabbed the original, ripped it apart, reshot it, remixed it, retasted it.

And then, Gotye, rather than complaining about what had been done to his song, did this:

Note, especially, the long list of credits on his website, and his attitude here:

Reluctant as I am to add to the mountain of interpretations of Somebody That I Used To Know seemingly taking over their own area of the internet, I couldn't resist the massive remixability that such a large, varied yet connected bundle of source material offered.

I was directly inspired here by Kutiman's Thru-You project:

Wonderful stuff!

Thankyou to everyone who has responded to Somebody That I Used To Know via YouTube. It's truly amazing!

An artist to watch, I think.
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With a hat-tip to papersky - Why Machiavelli is important [Jul. 19th, 2012|08:15 pm]
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That's a link to an article by a Renaissance scholar who's been living in Florence for the last year, discussing what was so important about Machiavelli.

It's a lovely article; well written and surprisingly touching.
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An Olympic Post [Jul. 18th, 2012|08:48 am]
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There's a lot I could say about the Olympics - the Orwellian mascots, the Zil lanes on the roads, the potential travel nightmares.

Here's something else, from a story in the Independent about the Olympic village, and the athletes' responses to it.

"After all those dark days of the war, the bombing, the killing, the starvation, the revival of the Olympics was as if the sun had come out... I went into the Olympic Village and suddenly there were no more frontiers, no more barriers. Just the people meeting together. It was wonderfully warm. Men and women who had just lost five years of life were back again."
Emil Zapotek, Czech Middle Distance Runner, London, 1948. Gold Medal winner.
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I'm aware that this is another link in lieu of content ... [Jun. 18th, 2012|03:22 pm]
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But this is just lovely.

Storybook calligraphy

Sinfest is a wierd little webcomic about God, Buddha, the Devil, books, people, poetry, feminism, patriarchy and love. Click on the comic to go through to the site.

I'm not doing it justice with that description at all. :-)
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Why I love XKCD #ivelostcount [May. 9th, 2012|09:45 am]
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Ten Thousand
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The miracles of technology ... [May. 8th, 2012|08:46 pm]
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We're planning to put on a show in the Autumn - depending on the venue, either a 1 week preview in October followed by 3 weeks in Jan / Feb or 3 weeks in November. To discuss, we usually meet for coffee in the middle of town, but time pressures this week meant that we thought we could delve into the joy that is a Skype audio conference.

What's the first rule of any conference? First check your equipment.

So 7:30 came around, I joined the conference, I could hear everyone perfectly. Could they hear me? Not so much. A few text messages (because you can't IM someone who's in an audio conference with you) and checking my headset leads me to believe that my microphone is kerput.

Aware that there are 3 people waiting on me to sort my shit out, I dig through the box of bitstm that every geek has to find my spare microphone. This, unaccountably, is not in the box of bits.

So, I would like to thank Skype and Apple for inspiring / allowing me to download the Skype for iPhone app, install it on my phone and join the conference (15 minutes late, but still there) using my phone, essentially, as a working microphone.

We are living in the future ...
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Help me, Lazyweb ... [May. 8th, 2012|11:17 am]
Does anyone know of an application that allows you to handwrite annotations onto an email? iPad would be good but I'm not sure that such a thing exists at all.
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Encapsulating a character ... [May. 6th, 2012|01:18 pm]
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One of my favourite books about how to write is Stephen King's "On Writing". King, like John Irving, has such a distinctive voice when he writes - that New England laconic that infects my writing style for weeks after I've read something of theirs, sticking to my fingers like creosote, staining my keyboard with their rhythms.

So, following links on a dull May Bank Holiday Sunday, I found a post by Neil Gaiman where he'd interviewed King for the Sunday Times and then, because the Times interview is behind a paywall, has posted the interview on his blog. And one of the things that King said put my back up at first. He's written a sequel to The Shining.

I'm not a big fan of sequels that come out many years after. Le Guin managed it with Tehanu, but it took 10 years for me to (grow up and) like that book once it had been published. The questions it asked and answered about what had happened to Ged in the first three books were questions that it took me a long while to appreciate needing to be asked. Scott Card's 'Shadow' books were disastrous - take a character (Ender) that went through hell, and then take all his victories away from him 20 years later because the authors new favourite character (Bean) is working in the background, making things easier. It's revisionism, pure and simple.

So when King said he had written a sequel to The Shining, my instinctive reaction was to be wary.

And then he said this:

“I wanted to write Dr Sleep because I wanted to see what would happen to Danny Torrence when he grew up. And I knew that he would be a drunk because his father was a drunk. One of the holes it seemed to me in The Shining is that Jack Torrance was this white-knuckle dry drunk who never tried one of the self-help groups, the like Alcoholics Anonymous. I thought, okay, I'll start with Danny Torrence at age forty. He is going to be one of those people who says 'I am never going to be like my father, I am never going to be abusive like my father was'. Then you wake up at 37 or 38 and you're a drunk. Then I thought, what kind of a life does that person like that have? He'll do a bunch of low-bottom jobs, he'll get canned, and now he works in a hospice as a janitor. I really want him to be in a hospice worker because he has the shining and he can help people get across as they die. They call him Dr Sleep, and they know to call for him when the cat goes into their room and sits on their bed. This was writing about guy who rides the bus, and he's eating in a McDonalds, or on a special night out maybe Red Lobster. We are not talking about a guy who goes to Sardi's.”

And, you know? That's just such an awesome summary of 30 years of someone's life, 30 years of what would have happened to someone who went through what Danny did at the Overlook, 30 years of never being able to let go of the past.

I'm very much looking forward to reading this.
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Ave atque vale [Apr. 16th, 2012|10:12 pm]
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It's taken a while for the words to come.

furzepig is the reason I don't LRP anymore.

No. That's not quite right.

furzepig is the reason I know I'm not a LRPer anymore.

I've known D. for a very long time. Memory* says 'The Dome' which would place it around '95 or so; bonding over LRP and web design in a virtual room pretending to be a castle in an imaginary world. I'm aware it doesn't get much geekier than that. Though she won. My webdesign was for a university. Hers was for a comics company. Orbiting around each other at games the length and breadth of England. Always having a good word to say to each other when we did.

Then, post Millenium, I stopped going to the same games that she did. Well, I stopped going to games, mostly. She was at the first NWO game, and we had a few seconds to chat - there was far too much going on to spend time on real life interactions. And the games which did have that time, I was no longer attending. She played Maelstrom, and had a whale of a time. I took up clubbing, and it was pretty good, all things considered. But we fell out of contact.

But the modern gossamer thin strand was there. D came relatively late to LiveJournal, and then there was Facebook, and the myriad ways that it's possible to keep in touch without much effort in this modern age. I'm a great believer that friendships are sustained by trivia - if you see someone infrequently, then you get to hear of the highs and the lows, but all you know of their life is the top and bottom of the sine wave. For their life to seem full to you, for it to seem real ... for that you need to know what they're having for lunch, or that they stubbed their toe. That can be by seeing them day to day in person, or online.

So, thanks to Facebook and LJ, D and I became real to each other again.

So, LRP. D. persuaded me back. "Come to Odyssey", she said. "Play a snooty Roman. Kt and Iain will be there, and some other people that you won't have seen for a very long time. It will be fun."

And it was. I think, of all the games I've played, it was one of the best. Great company, fantastic costumes, an immersive world. The weather held, the wine flowed freely, the laughter rang through the trees. There were no strops OOC (in our group, anyhow), no hardships.

And if I can come out of a game like that with no desire to return, I think it's fair to say that this is no longer my hobby.

D. gave me a gift (as did Kt, Iain, Sarah and everyone else that game). She gave me the best possible way to draw a line under something that had been a major part of my life for 10 years, and a minor (but still important) part for another 5.

That wasn't the last I saw of her, which is of course even better than the gift of a game. She was making more effort to visit London and to socialise when possible, and my work took me to Glasgow occasionally, so we'd meet up for dinner and drinks when we could. (Even though it was a 3 hour round trip for her.) I'm not sure I could tell you now what we talked about over Glaswegian sushi, but cabbages and kings were certainly involved.

And now she's gone.

Ave Atque Vale ...

By ways remote and distant waters sped,
Brother, to thy sad grave-side am I come,
That I may give the last gifts to the dead,
And vainly parley with thine ashes dumb:
Since she who now bestows and now denies
Hath taken thee, hapless brother, from mine eyes.
But lo! these gifts, the heirlooms of past years,
Are made sad things to grace thy coffin shell,
Take them, all drenchèd with a brother’s tears,
And, brother, for all time, hail and farewell!

Aubrey Beardsley, translating Catullus.
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The Hunger Games - no spoilers in post [Apr. 3rd, 2012|09:46 pm]
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My niece reads as voraciously as I do. Those of you who have been to my house know what that means. So for a couple of years, I bought her the Swallows and Amazons hardbacks - a couple for birthdays, a few for Christmas. Even when she was desperate to find out what happened next, and her Mum said that she could go and buy the books with her own money, she didn't want to. Those were the books that I bought her, and this was a thing between us.

So you can imagine when I bought the last one for her, I knew I had a hard act to follow.

Come last April, I looked around the books that I thought she'd like, and that would mean something to her. And I found the 'Hunger Games' trilogy - strong female protagonist, sci fi, exciting. Perfect. But one of the reviews made me pause - I hadn't read the books and my niece is young for her age. So I ordered them for me and read them first; if they were great and appropriate, I'd buy my niece her own set. If they were either rubbish or not appropriate, then I wouldn't.


The books are fantastic.

There's no way I want my 13 year old niece reading them. Not yet.

So you can imagine when I saw that a film was being made, I was slightly concerned. Even more so when I saw that it was going to get a 12A certificate.

I went to see it tonight.

It's everything that the books are; dark, melancholic, disturbing. It's a great film - it's a long time since a film has put my heart in my mouth for me and it happened several times tonight. The cuts they make to the book all make sense, and are few and far between.

It's a powerful story. And it's one I'll watch again. But not one that I'd suggest to my sister for my niece. Not just yet.

Even before I'd seen the film though, I'd heard ... not the soundtrack. I don't know if this is common but alongside the soundtrack album, there's this one - - The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. As best I can tell, these are largely songs that fit the theme, or that have been written to complement the film - certainly the lyrics in many cases are too apposite to not reflect the story.

And it's just beautiful.

I've been listening to it on repeat pretty much for the last week or so, and there's one track in particular that I've played over and over - I might as well, because when I'm not, I still hear the chorus. Friends call this an earworm. When you have a track that you just can't get out of your head. There's a way out - you need an emergency backup track that's even more tenacious, to drive the earworm out.

But I don't want this one to go, not yet.

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Lazyweb question [Mar. 28th, 2012|09:11 pm]
How does one go about buying art that might appear at an art auction?

There's a print that I'd really like to get a copy of - there were only ever 200 or so prints. I know the artist, I know the name of the print.

Is there an easy way (other than setting up a Google alert) to find out if one of these prints is going to be offered at auction somewhere?
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A memory [Mar. 27th, 2012|09:17 am]
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When I was 11 or so, I cycled to Tywyn.

I wasn't on my own. It was organised by the local church as a youth trip. There wasn't sponsorship or anything like that - it was just considered to be a good way to spend a weekend. Cycle, camp, play on the beach, come home. It was almost certainly done in the summer holidays - it's about an 85 mile cycle, and we did it in a day, from flat Shropshire into hilly Wales and down the long road from Machynlleth to the sea, where you can pretty much free wheel all the way. There was a grandly named 'support car' carrying all the luggage, and about 10 of us cycling.

I can't remember if Nici and I was amongst the youngest, but I think we were. Nici had been my friend at school since I was 5 and we were in the same class together. He has two brothers and was unusual for many things; he was a good artist from an early age, talented at almost anything he put his hand to, very charismatic. Nici's dad was a teacher, and he was bringing up Nici and his brothers on his own - he'd separated from his wife. This may not sound unusual now, but in Telford in the early 80s, especially as we were all Catholic, it was cause for comment.

I don't remember much about the ride there. Flashes - basically mental photos of punctures being mended, rests being taken. And that long, long road down which was almost like flying.

That night, Nici and I shared a tent. So it was me he woke in the dead of night, wheezing and unable to breath. I flicked on my torch. It was silver barrelled and threw out very little light - certainly nothing as useful or bright as the maglights I have now, or even the mini LED torches I used to take clubbing with me. A wan yellow light, shining on the face of my friend, who was unable to breath and slowly turning blue.

He panicked. I panicked. Calling out got no response from the tents around us - I'm guessing that what was the dead of night for us was probably about 10:30 and that the adults and teenagers had seen that we were dead to the world and so had gone to the pub. This was the 80s; James Bulger and Madeline McCain hadn't been born yet and there was no harm in the world that was going to come to 2 young boys in a camping field in a small Welsh coastal town.

Health and Safety and Risk Assessments hadn't been invented yet. Neither had mobile phones, of course, so we couldn't just call for help.

So - both of us realised we were on our own. There was only one thing to do - get up, find someone else, get an ambulance. We got dressed, I wrapped Nici in a sleeping bag for extra warmth and we set out into the night. Taking action calmed us and the cold night air eased his wheezing. While he still wasn't breathing well, being out and active meant that he could at least get some air into his lungs. So with him wrapped up and leaning on me, we headed towards the lights at the corner of the field where the road was.

I don't think we were quite at the road before we met most of our group coming back from the pub. While there were initial questions as to why we were out of bed, as soon as they heard Nici's breathing they acted. The local hospital was very close by and Nici was admitted straight away. They quickly diagnosed that he was having an asthma attack - whether it had been brought on by the exertion of the cycle that day, or an allergy to something in the field, or something else, I still to this day don't know. And asthma, once diagnosed, is trivially easy to treat.

Nici was kept in overnight, and wasn't allowed cycle back the following day. He sat in the support car and as he and I had been keeping pace with each other on the journey there, I wasn't allowed (nor would I have wanted to) cycle back on my own.

Nici grew up fine. He started seeing Jo when they were both 16; they got married when he got a job in a middle eastern state that wouldn't have been happy with them co-habiting, and they're still together now, 26 years later. I'm in touch with them both via Facebook and they look happy. I've no idea if he still carries an inhaler with him, or if it was something that passed once he got out of his teens. Given that he and Jo run marathons together, I'm guessing he's doing okay.
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More questions, this time from plucky_lass [Mar. 13th, 2012|11:10 pm]
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1/ For a long time you were the only other practising (or in my case semi- practicing) Christian larper I knew. Is faith/spirituality still important to you?

I honestly don't know. I blogged about a year ago about how I didn't tick 'Christian' on the Census form this time, though it was a tussle. I've been thinking a lot about it since, and I guess my current state of mind is that of practical agnosticism - I don't know that what I believe is necessarily important. What's important is what I do. If I do something nice for someone, then its irrelevant if I'm doing that because God told me to, or because Kant suggested it, or even if just because I like the nice warm fuzzy glow I get from doing it. The person in question still got something nice done for them.

Having said that, on the winter solstice in 2009 I wrote my own credo:

I believe that this life is a journey, and that the day I stop learning is the day that I die.
I believe that I come to truth through stories, and that by telling stories to others I learn.
I believe that I am from this land and of this land, and that the stories that teach me best are the ones that spring from the same ground as me.
I believe that love, light and warmth are three things to strive for, and to wish for, and to wish for others too.

I still hold that to be true.

2/ Was LT the only larp you were involved with, or have there been others which have grabbed your attention at times?

*grin* I started LRP in 1986 at a little club in Telford, and by the time the LT started in '92 was playing a lot with a group called Nemesis in Manchester. In fact, many of the Harts in '94 were Nemesis players. For fests, I also played Omega, and then I played in the 5 'NWO' freeforms - probably my favourite game of all.

3/ Have your political views changed any since first formed?

Yes - I'm far more left wing now that I ever was. I think there's a number of massive inequalities in society, and that I need to play my part in trying to reduce those inequalities. And I'm far more republican now (anti-royal rather than IRA :-)) that I was in my teens and twenties.

4/ Why tabletop RPGs?

The joy of collaborative building; stories and worlds. The fun of the game, and a good reminder that games don't have to be zero-sum (something, to my shame, I'm not always good at remembering). And sometimes, just a damn good excuse to hang round with my mates and drink beer and eat pizza.

5/ Would you recommend laser eye surgery following your experiences?

Yes, but my experiences have been all positive. I healed quickly, had great eyesight for 9 years after the surgery and am only now having to wear glasses in certain circumstances; driving, mainly.

Still think it's one of the best decisions I ever made.

6/ What fictional character do you most relate to, and why?

Horatio Hornblower / Nicholas Seafort (they're essentially the same character.) Because I like to think that even when I screw up beyond all belief, and I have, that it's not because of any malice. Most of the biggest mistakes I've made have been down to lethargy.

7/ What skill would you most like to acquire?

If by 'acquire', you mean magically, without any effort, then speaking languages. Japanese if I'm only allowed one. If I'm allowed multiple, then I may need to think about that some more. (Welsh, Gaelic, Latin, French, Spanish, German ...)

On the other hand, if you're not going to allow me a magic wand, and actually mean that I've got to do all that dull learning and practice, then it's either sailing or climbing.
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Questions from november_girl [Mar. 10th, 2012|11:41 pm]
1. What does dancing mean to you?

It's one of the few activities that I do where I switch my brain off and just be. I don't know any formal dances, and I don't believe 'dance like no-one is watching' is enough. 'Dance like it doesn't matter who's watching' is far more important.

What I'm really bad at is dancing with someone else - I often get very self conscious about it, especially if I find the other person attractive.

2. Where do you think will be the next place you live?

I honestly don't know. There's no reason to move from Ilford in the foreseeable future; my home is here, it's handy for work, I have friends nearby. Life would have to change a great deal for me to consider moving away from London, and I really can't see myself not living in or on the edge of a city. But when I was looking for work before I got this job, I was looking in Birmingham as well as London. I don't know if it's next, but it's certainly a contender.

3. Which do you consider more important, being totally honest or keeping people happy?

Keeping people happy, if it's a binary. I think the situations which require total honesty are few and far between - especially as I'm getting more and more aware that the things I believe are filtered so much through who I am that I'm not sure that there's any such thing as absolute truth.

Not that I'd lie to someone for the sake of it; I just think that 'total honesty' requires you to say something about a situation with no regard for how the person you're speaking to is going to take it.

4. What's your favourite book?

Can't answer that at all. It's so situational. I have books that I find challenging each time I read them. Books which are like old socks with holes in that you can't persuade yourself to throw out. Books which are freshly laundered jumpers straight out of the dryer. Books which have chapters that are old friends; the sort that you can ring at 4 in the morning whether it's to tell them that you're having the worst time or the best time of your life.

Basically, I'm polyamorous about books.

5. What do you / did you get out of LRP?

Did. Very much did. :-)

A huge amount of sociability. An adrenal rush. Quiet moments around fires in the dark. The dull ache of armour and the particular joyful moments that occur just after you've taken off your chain and the wind can get through and start to dry your sweat and you feel light enough to dance on the moon. Excellent friends. Hangovers. Bruises and kisses.

My heart in my mouth on more than one occasion.

6. How's the Beetle going?

I now understand why people are petrolheads.

7. Would you ever consider living in Ireland?

My heart says yes, my head says no. None of my friends are there; the people I know (many of whom I'm related to) who are I'm not really in touch with - the occasional wedding, baptism or funeral is not enough to convince me to move.

Find me a green eyed, black haired girl though, and all bets are off. :-)
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(no subject) [Mar. 10th, 2012|09:20 pm]
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Once a week, I go to a primary school in Bethnal Green to help the children there put together a school magazine. It's organised through the Community Relations team at work, I've been doing ti for about a year, and it's a lot of fun.

It's hard work (and really makes me appreciate the work that teachers do) but it's quite different to my day job and breaks the rhythm of the working week.

So this term, I've really taken the lead in project managing the magazine - of the people who can go regularly, I'm the one with the most design / printing experience. So we're encouraging the children not just to write articles and take photos, but also to proofread each other's work, and to think about what goes into making a magazine. I even briefly talked to them about page layout, and things they needed to consider about the number of articles we had. I've got an editorial board meeting with them this Thursday to show them the final proofs of the magazine and they get to say whether they're happy with it.

There's a whole heap of good things about doing this, but last week's session really raised a smile. 2 nine year old girls were putting together a recipe page, and they were decorating the edge of the page with clip art of chocolate chunks. As I looked over their shoulder to the PC, one of them turned to me and, with a very serious look on her face, said "We're only putting the pictures of chocolate on the left hand side and at the top, so you must make sure that this is a left hand page, otherwise the design won't work."

I think I managed to nod, say "I'll make a note of that" and turn away before grinning too much.
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My favourite kind of meme [Mar. 8th, 2012|10:17 pm]
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Usual meme rules - comment back if you'd like questions for yourself. (If you'd like to comment without getting questions, feel free, just let me know)

The delightful kt_peasant asked me these 7 questions:

1. Would you rather watch something done well, or do it yourself, possibly less well? Discuss.

Both. I love watching people who are better than me at things; its one of the best ways for me to learn. There's a guy called Nigel who climbs at Mile End who is just one of the most graceful people I've ever seen and he climbs in a way that makes ... jealous is entirely the wrong word. He inspires me to climb better, even though I doubt I'll ever climb half as well as he does.

So both - give me someone good at what they do to watch and to learn from and to inspire me, and I'll be happy.

2. What does the word 'cabaret' evoke for you?


At its best, cabaret is entertainment. Related to Q1 it's watching people good at what they do, up on stage, making other people feel emotion, usually very positive emotion.

And I get to stand at the back and watch the audience and be aware that I've been a part of making that happen.

Running an event is something like I've always imagined surfing to feel like - it's chaos and you're thrashing away and it could all end up with you flat on your back with the waves about to crash down on your head. But then you reach this balance point, where the chaos is going on around you, but you know that you're better than it. That you've got everything you need to make it through to the end, and that you're poised on top of the wave and that there's nothing coming that you can't cope with. When I got to that point in the evening with Planet Angel I used to go and sit on a speaker at the front of the room, face the dancing crowd and I would just burst out laughing with the joy of that feeling.

With cabaret, that would disrupt things rather too much, so I laugh on the inside instead.

Still get the feeling though.

3. Have you ever taken IC learning/development back into real life? When?

Not sure. Things like confidence? Definitely. But that's a gradual grow rather than specific instances. I once went into a work evaluation meeting as Jarane because they were trying to pull a fast one with The Code the HR Policy regarding bonuses. That was fun :-)

4. If you could be anywhere, with a forcefield beneath to prevent InstaDeath, what would you most want to climb?

I wouldn't.

There's two reasons. Firstly, for me, climbing is about the route, not the destination. It's lovely to be at the top of a rock knowing that I've just achieved it. Which rock it is isn't as important (at the moment. As I get more outdoor experience, that might change.)

Secondly, the challenge in climbing isn't really the fear of falling. It's "Can I make the next move?". I might not be able to make it because I'm scared to fall, but your forcefield isn't as reassuring as a stout rope and an alert belayer. But it's much more likely that I won't be able to make the next move because I'm too tired, or not quite strong enough, or my balance isn't right, or I haven't approached the hold intelligently, or I'm just not good enough.

And sometimes that all happens when I'm only 2 feet above the floor.

There's lots of places I want to go - many of them I want to go and climb. But no need for a forcefield. :-)

5. Are cities at night better in winter or summer?

Depends on the city. Prague at night in winter; you wrap yourself in the blanket that the bar provides and sit outside, drink the winter ale and watch the lights of the Old Town all around. London at night in summer. Walking through Bloomsbury when it's warm, and almost silent. The stones breath out and everything is calm; a side of the city that you rarely see.

6. Name five books you would want with you on a desert island.

  • Dante's Divine Comedy, if only because I might have time to make it all the way through.
  • The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Because they're beautiful, and if I'm going to be talking to myself (I do it at home, no doubt I'd do it on a desert island) I might as well have something good to proclaim.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary - as large an edition as you'll let me get away with. If it has the etymologies, so much the better.
  • The Times Atlas of the World - because even place names make my imagination fly.
  • Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. Just because ....

7. Which tabletop game have you found most immersive? Tell me a story from it.

I don't find tabletop immersive when I'm playing. I focus too much on the 'game' part of RPG. This is not something I'm very proud of.

But as a GM? 3 stories.

An Ars Magica game where an old Diedne came out of Faerie to negotiate with the characters about bringing his house back into the Order. They'd sent him because he was dying, and tough enough that the PCs wouldn't be able to force any information out of him. And he'd gone because he just wanted to sit in Snowdonia once more, and to die in Wales. As I was playing him, his voice kept dropping quieter and quieter as he slowed further and further towards death. And when I looked up, at least one of the players was crying.

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer game where a friend called Caroline, in her 3rd ever RPG, was playing a 'Cordelia' like character. She was walking through a vampire infested warehouse when another PC dropped a bundle of sticks near her and used magic to change them to snakes. Caroline said "I pick my feet up carefully and move slowly", whereupon the character who'd dropped the sticks shouted "Don't be scared. I'll command the snakes away from you." Without a pause for breath, Caroline retorted "I'm not scared, you stupid man. These are very expensive shoes!". For a handful of breaths, I honestly felt like I was watching a TV show being created in front of my eyes.

An Unknown Armies game, where forbinproject was playing an Avatar of the Architect, and he and his group had been sucked into a dreamworld where another Avatar of the Architect was trying to make Simon's character break taboo. The party were stuck at the top of a towerblock with the Chinese Triads coming in through the ground floor with lots of guns. Simon's character could change the building they were in to escape, but only by adding things to it. If he subtracted them, he broke taboo. He not only got everyone out, he got me (as his opponent) to break taboo because I honestly couldn't think of any other way to slow them down. Very few dice rolls, no preplanning, just trying to inhabit the mind of the architect faster and better than he could. And failing. It was awesome.
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Why I love London. [Feb. 29th, 2012|11:37 pm]
On Stratford station, on platform 8, listening to music, waiting for a train home.

A young man catches my eye. "did you hear that?" he asked. I remove my headphones. I didn't. I don't know what he's talking about.

"there's a platform alteration. Are you catching a train to Shenfieldl? It's now going from Platform 10.".

So thanks to the kindness of a stranger, I'm on the right platform, waiting for my train home.

London can be scary, and huge, and unfriendly.

But it can also be full of the kindness of strangers. Don't forget that.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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Just before Christmas ... [Feb. 26th, 2012|03:24 pm]
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I bought one of these.

While it's described as a 'mug' I bought it because it's basically a camping cafetiere. I figured that when out under canvas, I could make a couple of cups of ground coffee first thing each morning.

Given that I'm on my second mugful today, I guess I'm using it as originally intended.
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Disappointing ... [Feb. 22nd, 2012|08:55 pm]
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There's a 2 part programme that the BBC made called 'Queens of British Pop' - celebrating some of the best female pop artists of the last 30 years. Part 2 is very good - Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet, Kylie Minogue, Geri Halliwell, Amy Winehouse and Leona Lewis all feature and the programme investigates the impact that they've all had (even if somewhat hyperbolically in Lewis's case).

Disappointment number 1 is that I can't find part one on iPlayer. Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull, Suzi Quatro, Siouxsie Sioux and Kate Bush. Now, that's a lineup.

But, okay, said I. There's a series of video clips from the first episode on the website linked above. I'll flick through those in lieu of seeing the full programme.

Here's the second disappointment.

6 snippets about Kate Bush. One of her singing Wuthering Heights. Snippets from John Lydon, Del Palmer (her ex), Peter Gabriel, Mark Radcliffe and Anthony Van Laast (a choreographer).

See what's missing?

I'm not suggesting that only women can comment on women singers. But I'm somewhat disappointed that they couldn't (or more likely wouldn't) find one female voice who could comment on Kate's impact.
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(no subject) [Feb. 20th, 2012|11:32 am]
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It's hard to cheer when a newspaper closes. Even one you're slightly scared of, like the Daily Mail. Even though the Mail isn't technically a newspaper, more a serialised Necronomicon. In fact it's not even printed, but scorched on to parchment by a whispering cacodemon. The Mail can never close. It can only choose to vacate our realm and return to the dominion in which it was forged; a place somewhere between shadow and dusk, beyond time and space, at the dark, howling apex of infinity. London W8 5TT.

The ever quotable Charlie Brooker.
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We control the horizontal. We control the vertical. [Feb. 15th, 2012|08:18 pm]
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As many of you know, I don't have a TV. I haven't had one for about 4 years, and when I got rid of it, I wrote to the TV Licensing company and told them. They acknowledged my letter, sent me a refund for the balance of the license that I returned, and then that was that.

Other people have recounted different experiences of the situation. "Oh," said someone on rosamicula's friendslist. "They hound you after that. They knock on the door at all times and send you threatening letters through the post. They follow you home, steal your homework and give you a chinese burn just for suggesting that you don't have a television."

(I exaggerate. Not, it must be said, by much.)

All I could answer is that honestly, that's not been my experience. Not a dicky bird for 4 years. No being followed home. No chinese burns.

So it was with the tiniest soupçon of apprehension that I opened the letter that was on the doorstep when I returned this evening.

It's a perfectly polite letter.

They start with "Have your circumstances changed? We visited you* some time ago and confirmed that you didn't need a TV license. We're now writing to you to ask if that is still the case."

There's no presumption of guilt. There's no "Mwa haa haa! We're going to get you, you lying toerag!"

Just a request to know if I still don't need a license. And if I do, here's the easy ways to get it sorted.

I don't know if this is a recent change at the TV Licensing Agency. I also don't particularly feel that it's unreasonable of them to ask every couple of years given the ubiquity of TV licenses in most households - I'm aware I'm an anomaly (25 million licenses issued, 97% of households have a TV, according to here.)

Just visit the website**, confirm that I am still sans TV; job done.

*This is not true. They never visit. They never call. They hardly ever write...

**Admittedly, the process for confirming that I don't have TV is somewhat complicated by the fact that they apparently should have sent me a 10 digit confirmation number when they checked that I didn't have a license before. As they apparently took my word for it 4 years ago, I don't have that number. And, helpfully, it's not the same 10 digit number as the 10 digit number that is on the letter that they sent.

It was on a Monday morning that the gasman came to call ...
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Why I love Apple [Feb. 14th, 2012|10:44 pm]
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So my old PC is just creaking up on 3 years old. Its DVD drive is creaking, and refusing to play certain discs. So off to the Apple Store I hied, knowing that there are somewhere in the region of 20 days left on the extended warranty.

"Sure," says the guy. "We'll fit a new optical drive" after about 5 minutes of investigation. "No charge, because it's under warranty. And worse case, we're looking at a week."

Score 1. My main PC is going to be lovingly returned to me in no longer than a week.

Hold on.

A week.


I have to be without my PC for a week?

Surely some mistake?!

Anyway, a combination of some spare cash, a bit of luck and (frankly) no expensive hobbies means that I left the store with a new Mac Mini*.

Yes, I'm aware that I could have waited a week and got my stalwart old Mac Mini back, with a shiny new optical drive and then all would have been right in the world. But, you know, shiny now is better than shiny later.

So I'm home, I plug the new pooter in. I connect it to the various gubbins that the old pooter was connected to. And I switch it on.

About the 3rd decision I'm asked to make is "You've connected a Time Machine (Backup) disc to this computer. It has a viable backup on it. Would you like to restore that to this PC?"

So, with no drama, with no fuss, with the simple click of the 'yes, that's a damn fine idea, why don't you go ahead and restore all my files, applications and settings so that once you're done in about 4 hours I can just get on with using my computer the way I want to' button, I'm restoring 250Gb of data to this new PC.

And that's why I love Apple.

*The astute among you may well realise that the new Apple Mac Mini doesn't come with a DVD drive. So yes, I have effectively impulse bought a replacement PC that doesn't actually do the one thing that my old PC was failing on - to whit; playing DVDs. I am deeply aware of the irony inherent in this situation.
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I love XKCD [Feb. 10th, 2012|03:31 pm]
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On the nature of cheating [Feb. 4th, 2012|05:31 pm]
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A couple of weekends ago, I went up to Stoke to play Amber (see journals passim. and much fun was had by all. I stayed over, and the next morning had the pleasure of having a long chat with Steve, the GM, about gaming; why we both do it, what we get out of it and so on.

Steve used to play a lot of Runequest. (For the non-gamers who are still reading; all that's relevant at this point is that in Runequest, like most role playing games, randomness is generated by using dice - so in a combat, for example, dice are rolled to see if someone hits their opponent when they swing a sword at them, and so on.)

Runequest has quite a reputation for lethality; it's possible for an attack to hit and for the blow to land on the head or torso doing a lot of damage; often killing the target outright. And Steve realised that his characters were getting a hit a lot on the arms and legs; an annoyance, but with magical healing and regeneration, it's a lot easier to regrow a hand than a head. And loss of a limb (from a literary point of view) can be character building - consider Long John Silver or Captain Hook, for example.

The problem was, Steve's character was getting hit in the limbs far more than probability would suggest. Or, perhaps more importantly, he was getting hit far less in the lethal locations than he should have been.

In short, his GM was cheating.

We don't call it that, of course. It's cheating if a player 'misreads' a dice roll; if what would have been a failed saving throw nudges over into a success, or if the sword blow tilts from a 15 to a 19 to hit. But when a GM does it, it's sort of magically okay. It's called 'fudging' as if it was somehow sweet behaviour.

And, as you've probably guessed if you're a GM at all, Steve was doing exactly the same when he was GMing. He didn't want to kill off characters 'at random'. He didn't want his players to have to generate a new character just because the dice said 'bye bye'.

His reaction was to start GMing Amber.

Amber is a diceless roleplaying game; there's no randomness for event resolution. It's all down to GM fiat after looking at the statistics of the characters in question. So if you're running a duel, and two characters have a Warfare of 15, then it's a very close run fight. They'll go back and forth and it will probably be a deadlock until one or the other does something to change the playing field. Go corps a corps, and make it a contest of Strength. Play it out, and make it a contest of Endurance. Do something.

It's a good system, as long as you trust the GM and the other players (which I do) because essentially, whatever the GM says goes. The situation that had brought up this was a duel I'd had with another character the session before, where his character had a higher Warfare than mine, but I (not my character) had a much better situational awareness, and am much, much better at describing what I'm doing. (Oh, and coming on for 20 years experience in fighting situations - LRP, kendo, fencing and aikido). Essentially, I talked my character into almost winning the fight when really, I shouldn't have been able to.

And that's the weakness of Amber. (Though it was a damn entertaining fight, for both me and my opponent.)

I've hit the same dilemma, of course. But I approached it a different way. In fact, a couple of different ways.

Firstly was an Unknown Armies game where all dice rolls were done in the open - mine and the players. This brought a frission to the table as I was essentially saying "I'm not pulling punches here. If your number comes up, you'll die. Life in this game world is nasty, brutish and short". And that worked, even though demonstrably it had no effect on character fatality. Why? Because the GM can always stack the deck. It's all well and good saying 'all dice rolls are in the open' but if the players don't know what the target number is, it doesn't matter if they know what the number rolled is.

Ultimately, the UA game was better for the open dice rolls. But it didn't really address the fudging / cheating issue.

So why do GMs fudge? And why do players cheat? In both cases, I honestly believe it's for the same reason. To make the story better. The GM is (often) fudging to keep players alive, to let the story continue. But the GM has control over the whole world, and the player only has control over their character. So the player 'cheats' to survive, to do more damage, to win in a combat. Because, with the limited tools they have at their disposal, those all make the story better.

I think I found my home with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG.

BTVS-RPG differs from many traditional RPGs because it gives the players (not the characters) Drama Points - boosts they can use to make a score higher (to hit in combat, to do damage, or to do something flash like jumping a chasm that the player thinks that the character might have failed on if just left to the dice). And that in itself takes away one of the reasons for players to cheat.

But the player can also use the Drama Points to interact with the world in the same way that the GM does all the time. Adding things in, taking them away. I ran a scene in a museum where Vampires burst in on a school trip to steal a suit of Samurai armour. One of the characters (played by caddyman if I'm recalling correctly) rolled under a stage to get away.

"I reckon", said Bryan, "That there's likely to be a master switch for the spotlights under here. It's the kind of awkward out of the way place that lighting boards get put."

"Reasonable," said I, intrigued as to where this was going. "No need to spend a Drama Point for that."

"I also reckon that the curator of this place has fitted the spotlights with daylight simulation bulbs", he continued. "To give a medieval ambiance to the place."

I couldn't help but grinning. "Go ahead, spend the points."

So his character, desperate to get away, knocked against the master switch and powered up the spotlights. And daylight simulation bulbs in a Vampire milieu are going to be ... effective in a room full of Vampires.

The important point for me there is that his character didn't do anything clever. But the player certainly did. Something that I hadn't thought of. Something that, in a regular RPG, he couldn't have done.

He cheated.

But he cheated within the rules, and he definitely made the story better.

And that's when, IMO, cheating becomes fudging. And it doesn't have to be the sole purview of the GM.
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(no subject) [Feb. 1st, 2012|08:27 am]
Greg Stolze, who wrote Unknown Armies, is using Kickstarter to fund his writing, which is great, and very much in line with the Ransom method he used to release Reign.

His latest story (linked above) has a release price of $330, and needed $9 to be released.

I'm wondering if he's geeky enough to realise that I've just bid enough to take the pledged price to $333.

(I'm wondering if you're geeky enough to realise why ... :-))
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Don't be evil in private ... [Jan. 26th, 2012|09:22 pm]
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So if you look on this page, Google will tell you how old they think you are, based on the web pages you surf that they're aware of.

It will also tell you what subjects it thinks you're interested in.

I tried this at work and at home.

At work, Google thinks I'm 35-44 (which is pretty good - I'm 42).

At home, Google thinks I'm 18-24.

This amuses me greatly.

(nb: If you don't want them to track you like this I can sell you tinfoil for your hat at a reasonable price delete your cookies and browse in incognito mode. Which they explain on the above linked page.)
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Digging through the past [Sep. 24th, 2011|11:58 am]
Conversations with an old Manchester friend on Facebook sent me digging through my LiveJournal archives to put some dates in context.

I found this post - a meme where you answer 12 or so questions and they choose your Tarot signifier based on your answers.

8 years ago, while I was in the process of resetting my head, I turned up as the Devil - dreamfire said she wasn't surprised but I don't think we ever had the conversation why.

Out of interest, I clicked on the link - the site is still there, still doing the same thing.

But a whole internet lifetime later, my signifier has changed.

I Am

Which tarot card are you?
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Lazyweb request [Sep. 21st, 2011|10:50 am]
Lazyweb request - istockphoto.com have got very expensive recently - anyone got any suggestions as to other stock photo sites that haven't multiplied their prices by 10 in the last year?
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(no subject) [Sep. 15th, 2011|10:30 pm]
As a birthday present for me, a friend has bought a cherry tree that's going to be planted in Japan, to replace one lost in the tsunami.

I'm deeply, deeply touched by this. It's an almost perfect present.
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From a speech by David Cameron [Aug. 16th, 2011|11:42 am]

"No, this was about people showing indifference to right and wrong, people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self-restraint."

Investment* Bankers or rioters, do you think?

*Edit to add: Despite the somewhat flip nature of my comment above, john_the_hat and rosamicula are quite right to point out in the comments that tarring everyone who works in banking with the same brush is unfair. However, I'd still stand by the assertion that Cameron's quote applies just as much to the bankers described in this article as it does to anyone who may have been rioting in London in the last week or so.
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